Reduced maintenance on athletic fields and lawns due to novel coronavirus

Turfgrass management considerations for athletic fields and home lawns during the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order.

Backyard landscape
Photo by Kevin Frank, MSU

At Governor Whitmer’s news conference on March 26, 2020, she stated that landscape services are not included as a business necessary to sustain or protect life. I’m honestly not sure if athletic field maintenance also falls under this prevue, but my best guess would be that it does. Proceeding under the premise that both athletic field and lawn care maintenance are to cease through the April 13 “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order, the following is important to consider when maintenance does resume.

Although it’s been an early spring to this point, Mother Nature is still somewhat on our side. My only turf observations now are limited to my lawn, lawns on my daily walk and pictures on social media. At least in mid-Michigan, lawns and athletic fields have not required mowing yet. My expectation would be that although top-growth will certainly begin to accelerate, growth will not spiral out of control in the next couple weeks. When mowing does resume, consideration may need to be given to mowing at a higher than standard mowing height and slowly decreasing it over time to prevent any scalping injury that would set the turf back. Obviously, homeowners may still mow their lawns, so these comments are directed at professional management of lawns and athletic fields.

Many might have questions about crabgrass preemergence herbicide applications at this time. Using GDD Tracker, most mid- to southern portions Michigan are quickly approaching the optimum application window for preventative herbicides. The optimum application window stretches from 250 to 500 growing degree days (GDD) using a base 32 temperature. East Lansing, Michigan, for example has accumulated 190 GDD through March 26 and is forecast to reach the optimum application window on March 30. Although we’ll hit the optimum application window next week, it’s likely we’ll stay there for at least two weeks if not longer.

Even if we’re outside of the optimum timing when business resumes, you still have options. Herbicides that contain the active ingredient dithiopyr (Dimension) are effective up to the two-leaf stage of crabgrass, which even this year probably wouldn’t occur until early May. I discussed this issue with Dave Gardner from the Ohio State University. He indicated that in the numerous trials he’s conducted over the years, as long as crabgrass is not visible in the stand, all the typical preemergence herbicides are still generally effective and possibly a better option than relying solely on postemergence control.

For athletic fields that may not typically apply a preemergence herbicide due to spring seeding, keep in mind the herbicides Mesotrione (Tenacity) and topramezone (Pylex) can be good choices in certain situations. Both of these products can be applied on the same day of seeding Kentucky bluegrass for crabgrass control during establishment, but be careful and read the label about applications on other cool-season turf species.

We are all clearly in unprecedented times as this is the time of year when turf management is usually busy with activity preparing turf for the coming season. Stay safe, we’ll get through this and I’m confident we’ll be able to get the turf back in top condition sooner rather than later.  

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